Developer Motion Twin has been making video games since about 2001 but if you’re not part of their self-described “Anti-social Network” Twinoid You may have absolutely no idea they even exist. Almost all of their games, aside from Dead Cells, can be played for free after signing up. I tried out a few of the games including MUSH, Die2Nite, and DinoRPG. Some are homages to beloved franchises. Others are wholly unique. While none of them really sank their hooks into me, almost all of them are indicative of one thing: The name Motion Twin will eventually be synonymous with greatness in the world of indie games.
All this history brings us to Dead Cells. Motion Twin’s Steam Debut is one hell of a “Hello” to the indie games scene and I’m gonna give you a few reasons I think you should give it a go.
Let’s start off with the combat. It is by far the #1 reason you should be playing Dead Cells. It’s frantic, tactical, and fluid all at once. As you play through the game you’ll pick up blueprints for a bevy of weapons and items that you can unlock using cells dropped from all the enemies you will inevitably slaughter. The combination of swords, shields, bows, skills and other gadgets is almost endless. You have four slots to fill, two of which can be filled with either a melee, ranged weapon, or shield. The other two are where your skills go. Each run (trust me there will be many) will have you balancing new strategies depending on what drops, power-ups, and skills you encounter. Weapons and Items are broken down into three, conveniently color-coded, combat styles: Brutality, Tactical, and survivability. These three styles eventually are tied into a series of perks like “Killing an enemy gives you X health” or “Shortens the cooldown on your skills by X%.” Building up one of these three styles with whatever power-ups you get is just one part of a larger synergistic combat system.
Every item you pick up has a chance to have an “Affix.” These range from just additional damage to things like “Does 125% damage against a bleeding target” or “Enemies killed with this weapon explode into a cloud of poison gas.” Using these affixes to build synergistic builds is not only key in succeeding in Dead Cells but maliciously fun. Curating a build well can lead to some absolutely vicious combinations.
Once you’re savvy enough, and if RNGsus is on your side, you could end up in a situation like the following: A group of enemies are in front of you. In your main weapon slot you have a sword that does 100% damage against a burning target. In your secondary slot you have Firebrands. In your first skill slot you have Oil grenades and in your second Skill slot you have a Deploy-able turret that causes it’s victims to drop a swarm of bitters. You open the salvo by throwing your Oil Grenade, this douses anybody unlucky enough to be in the blast radius with a Flammable oil that enhances the effects of any fire weapon. After they’re drenched in oil you throw the fire brand and it lights up the ground and any enemy in the immediate area. The enemies covered in oil take extra damage from the fire. They are roasting up real good. You deploy your turret and then move in to attack with your sword. Every swing is eviscerating any foe that happens to be covered in flames, as they die a swarm of bitters crawls out of their corpse thanks to the turret you put down. The bitters help with taking on the rest of the hoard. Before long, everything is dead and you’re left standing
Situations like this are the norm in Dead Cells. It is full of these frenetic bursts of action that have kept me coming back time after time.
Developers with ears and sensible progression
There are a ton of rouge-lite/likes out there all with their own take on how progression should work. Games like The Binding of Isaac are notorious for peeling back new layers of the game as you progress through. New floors and unlocks tied to them; new bosses and enemies. Dead Cells presents a similar path. As you progress through several runs (if you’re like me this will be in the hundreds before you unlock everything) you’ll unlock runes that allow you to access new areas. Each new area contains its own brand of new fearsome foes to fight and generally contain a higher tier of blueprints than areas you’ve already been in.
What’s more interesting is that opportunities to use runes that you’ve yet to unlock present themselves in almost every area of the game. So in addition to unlocking whole new areas, the runes also allow players to access even more parts of existing areas. These offshoots usually contain extra weapons or power-ups that would have been otherwise inaccessible and can sometimes help a ton at the beginning of a run.
Currently there are 5 runes in Dead Cells, but since the games debut on Steam, Motion Twin have added more than a few runes, areas, weapons, and enemies. I would be surprised if this didn’t continue till release and after. Especially considering how much Dead Cells has changed since its debut. Motion Twin has regularly posted developer logs and communicated with the community. The base three-colored system I mentioned above was entirely different on first release and has been changed with some further development by listening to the community. A look at their developer blog is proof of that. They even list changes as “Community suggestion.”
I think it’s important to support developers who support the community around their games. In a time where sometimes it feels like the developers never listen (looking at Bungie), it’s nice to know that some devs do have ears.
Intricate Pixel Art and Level Design
This last one will be short but man, this is one good looking game. If I had any friends that thought pixel art couldn’t be gorgeous, I would very likely show them Dead Cells. Multi-Layered backgrounds haven’t looked this good since parallax scrolling was invented.
Alright, maybe I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but seriously, Dead Cells is easy on the eyes. For the amount of carnage that can be happening on screen at any minute, everything is easily defined and readable. Every weapon or enemy attack animation is fluid and incredibly well designed. You can really see and feel the weightless slash of the Balanced Blade vs the slow brutal smash of The Nutcracker. The level of detail really brings out the character in every new monster you meet.
Every new area looks and feels completely different.
The Toxic Sewers are claustrophobic and soaked in whatever unspeakable sludge ends up there, the Ramparts are far reaching lofty towers, and the Ossuary feels darkly demonic. Every single area in the game has its own unique and well defined character. I would go as far to say that the style and flair in this game is almost unparalleled currently. It is really beautiful to see in motion and shows how much Motion Twin care.
Play this game!
I can’t stress enough how much fun I’ve had with Dead Cells. It can be brutal and frustrating, but every run is different and exciting. The seemingly limitless combination of weapons and skills and the deliciously vicious synergies of everything coming together is truly remarkable. Motion Twin seems dedicated to the community that’s surrounded the game and is breathing life into it. If you’re a fan of metroidvanias, this is a no brainer. If you’re a fan of Rogue-likes, this is a no brainer. If you enjoy hacking and/or slashing on any level, this is a no brainer. Luckily for you non-PC savvy folks Motion Twin said they’re bringing Dead Cells to all major consoles this year! I can’t wait to rock it on my Switch!
PLAY THIS GAME! GO PLAY DEAD CELLS! WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS?!